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Naveen asked : What is the relevance of BIMSTEC and what are the prospects for India being a member of the grouping?

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  • Sampa Kundu replies: BIMSTEC, a sub-regional grouping, occupies a distinctive position as it links South and Southeast Asia. Initiated in June 1997 as BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation), the small grouping ensured that it does not work as a substitute for SAARC; rather, it encouraged cooperation at the multilateral level among member countries from two different regions of Asia. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC, as renamed in 2004) is said to have been encouraged by India’s Look East Policy (LEP) and Thailand’s Look West Policy. The formation of BIMSTEC, however, is much attributed to the Thai interest of getting economic benefits from its neighbours in its west, with a focus on India and Myanmar. Simultaneously, India and other South Asian nations wanted closer cooperation with the economically prospering region of Southeast Asia.

    In the present context, when the members of BIMSTEC have acquired memberships in various other regional/sub-regional organisations which also promote cooperation at different levels, BIMSTEC might be considered as a not so necessary and unique a mechanism to enhance partnership amongst its members. Lack of political will has also limited the prospects of BIMSTEC. Nevertheless, BIMSTEC still has relevance as it brings together 1.5 billion people comprising over 20 per cent of the world population and a combined GDP of over US$ 2.5 trillion.

    The fourteen priority areas of BIMSTEC, which include trade and investment, energy cooperation, counter-insurgency and cooperation to combat trans-national organised crime, transport and connectivity, people-to-people contact, tourism and other areas, could help in augmenting cooperation and reducing tension in the sub-region.

    At the 3rd BIMSTEC Summit held in Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar in early March 2014, three documents were signed including the Memorandum of Association on the Establishment of the BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariat, the Memorandum of Association on the Establishment of a BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate and the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Commission (BCIC) and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory (BCIO).

    As for India, it should be more proactive towards BIMSTEC to make its LEP 3.0 a success. BIMSTEC could help India to further increase its cooperation with countries located around the Bay of Bengal along with two of its adjuncts, namely Malacca Straits and Andaman Sea. In addition, India’s Northeast which shares common border with four BIMSTEC members (Myanmar, Bangladesh and also with Bhutan and Nepal) would particularly benefit from integration with East Asian economies and infrastructural development under the ambit of BIMSTEC.

    Posted on May 22, 2014